Some memories can be forgotten…others won’t ever go away. From internationally adored author Marcia Willett comes the magnificent new novel, Indian Summer.
For renowned actor Sir Mungo, his quiet home village in Devon provides the perfect retreat. Close by are his brother and his wife, and the rural location makes his home the ideal getaway for his old friends in London.
Among those is Kit, who comes to stay for the summer, bringing with her a letter from her first and only love, Jake, and a heart in turmoil. Years have passed since they last saw each other, and now he has written to Kit asking to meet again.
As the summer unfolds, secrets are uncovered that will shatter the sleepy community, and even tear a family apart. But those involved soon realize that the only way to move forward might be to confront the past…
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
Born in Somerset, in the west country of England, on the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Marcia Willett was the youngest of five girls. Her family was unconventional and musical, but Marcia chose to train as a ballet dancer. Unfortunately her body did not develop with the classical proportions demanded by the Royal Ballet, so she studied to be a ballet teacher. Her first husband was a naval officer in the submarine service, with whom she had a son, Charles, now married and training to be a clergyman. Her second husband, Rodney, himself a writer and broadcaster, encouraged Marcia to write novels. She has published several novels in England; A Week in Winter is the first to be published in the United States.
Read an Excerpt
By Marcia Willett
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Marcia Willett
All rights reserved.
The old Herm stands at the crossroads, looking west, guarding the secrets of a thousand years. He was known as Mercury or Hermes, the small god of travellers who kept company with those other gods of woods and streams. These Old Ones are forgotten now; those who worshipped at their shrines, poured a libation, left offerings of food, are long gone. But the old Herm remains, though his plinth is smashed and his body is crumbling away. The blank eyes, the faintly smiling lips and the rim of beard are still visible to anyone who stoops to look, pushing aside the wild flowers and fading grasses that hang like dreadlocks around his stony brow. He watches over this ancient way and those who travel it.
The dogs appear first around the bend in the lane, tails waving, still eager and energetic despite their walk. Their liver and white coats are sleek and shining, wet from their splashings in the stream, and the larger spaniel carries a ball in his mouth. Mungo follows more slowly with his elderly mutt, Mopsa, pottering along behind him. The August sunshine is hot and Mungo has slung his jersey around his waist, tying the sleeves in a loose knot. He stands for a moment, stretching in the warm dry air, snuffing up the scents of new-cut grass and honeysuckle. The dogs come racing back to him. Boz drops the ball at his feet and Sammy makes a grab for it but Mungo is quicker. He seizes the ball and throws it as far as he can. They skitter after it, jostling and barging each other, and he laughs out loud as he watches them. As usual, he is aware of the past all around him: the ghosts of Roman soldiers marching to the long-vanished fort; a line of laden packhorses plodding down to the Horse Brook, where the original granite clapper bridge still crosses the narrow stream.
Way back, when his name was beginning to be on everyone's lips, he'd acted in and directed a film that rocked the British box offices and became an international hit. This was its location: this valley, these crossways, the ford at the horse bridge. The vanished wooden fort had risen again and the air was once more riven with the clash of swords and the shouts of soldiers. The camera crew spent many rainy hours drinking coffee in Mungo's kitchen in the long-since converted smithy whilst the older members of the cast retired to their trailers in the paddock at Home Farm.
Isobel Trent was cast in the role of the wayward local beauty opposite his tough Roman general. They'd become cult figures; his films always successful, their partnership so magical. The media treated them like royalty; photographed them, gossiped about them, conjectured at the depth of their relationship.
'Let them talk,' Izzy said. 'Much the best way, Mungo darling. Puts them right off the scent.'
Her secret, stormy affair with Ralph was over by then.
He'd disappeared out of their lives for ever, after that final, terrible argument in Mungo's kitchen. How young they'd been; how serious and intense their emotions: his own rage and helplessness, Izzy's tears, and her despair, and Ralph's cruel indifference.
Mungo pauses at the crossroads, makes his obeisance to the old Herm, and follows the dogs up the steps, through the gate and into the cobbled courtyard. In the lane silence gathers again, shadows creep beneath twisty boughs of ash and thorn. The old Herm remains, watching the pathways, guarding his secrets.
* * *
Mungo towels down the dogs, pours them fresh water and leaves them to lie panting in the courtyard. He pushes the kettle on to the hotplate, pulls it off again as the telephone rings.
'Mungo. It's Kit.'
Kit Chadwick. Her voice is warm and eager and he sees her vividly in his mind's eye: ashy brown hair, smoky blue eyes, slender, restless.
'I hope this is to tell me you're coming down,' he says.
'God, it'd be good to see you, sweetie.'
'Well, it is, if you'll have me. London's sweltering, and something a bit weird has happened.' Her voice is suddenly uncertain. 'Honestly, Mungo. I really need to talk to you.'
'Then get the next train out.' He is alert, interested, but knows it's best not to question her now. 'Or will you drive?' 'I'd rather. You know me. I'd like to stay for a few days, if that's OK, and I might need to be a bit independent.'
'Fine,' he says easily. 'So when?'
'Later, when it's cooler. I'll be with you, say, nine-ish. Not too late?'
'Of course not.'
'And listen. I remembered earlier. It's Izzy's birthday.'
A tiny pause. 'So it is. We'll have a delicious little birthday supper. Gnocchi suit you? And I've got a bottle of Villa Masetti chilling in the fridge.'
'Sounds like heaven.'
'Go and pack then. And drive carefully.'
Suddenly he can't be bothered to make tea. He goes to stand at the stable door, looking out across the recumbent forms of the dogs into the cobbled courtyard. The big kitchen, where a long line of smiths once plied their trade, has blackened beams supporting its ceiling, and a slate floor and it is still the heart of the house which – over the years – has been extended to include the adjoining barn and converted into a very comfortable home.
'Camilla and I want you to have the smithy and the barn,' Archie said to him, forty years before. 'We think it's unfair that Dad's left it all to me just because he didn't approve of you being an actor.'
Mungo was very touched but not surprised: the gesture was typical of his older brother's sense of fair play. Archie, a partner in their late father's law practice in Exeter, still had the house, Home Farm and two small cottages, but he was welcome to them. Mungo loved the smithy. It was a perfect place to keep as a bolt-hole from London; coming down on the train from Paddington with his friends, giving parties. Camilla aided and abetted him. She loved his theatre friends, filled his fridge, asked them all up to the house for dinner. Pretty Camilla: fair hair, fair skin inclining to freckles, generous, practical. She managed Archie, their children and the dogs with cheerful competence. His friends adored her, brought her presents, played with the boys, whilst Archie watched with contented tolerance. Archie and Camilla were his still centre. They'd get a babysitter so as to dash up to London to watch him perform on each first night, going backstage to congratulate him, and camping overnight in his tiny flat. And when he became famous they revelled in his success, shared in his good fortune and celebrated on a grander scale.
Leaning on the stable door in the sunshine, Mungo reflects on the glory days. It was good, back then, to return to his bolt-hole; sometimes alone, more often with a few special friends. He'd never much liked being alone. In those early days Izzy had been his most constant companion: Izzy – and a little later, Ralph.
Izzy's birthday. He hadn't needed the reminder.
Darling Izzy: sexy, complicated, highly strung. She'd started in musical theatre: Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Lois Lane in Kiss Me, Kate. He saw the potential actress, masked by low self-esteem and dramatic mood swings, and he persuaded her to audition for Puck in The Dream at the RSC, and later for Ariel in The Tempest. These roles brought her the attention of the critics, and acclaim – and, later, her partnership with him brought her great fame – but her heart remained faithful to those early days.
'I'm just a song-and-dance man,' she'd say. 'I'm terrified that suddenly everyone will realize I'm a fraud.'
They were in rep in Birmingham just beginning rehearsals for Twelfth Night when she first met Ralph Stead. Izzy was cast as Maria, Ralph as Sebastian, Mungo as Feste. They shared gloomy digs and rehearsed in draughty church halls, but they were happy, the three of them. Izzy taught Mungo how to project his voice, singing with him to encourage his light tenor voice: 'Come away, come away, death' and 'When that I was and a little tiny boy'. They practised alone in the hall when everyone else had gone home, Izzy picking out the tune on the ancient piano. One evening she stopped suddenly, looked up at him as he leaned beside her.
'Oh, darling, isn't it hell? I think I'm in love with Ralph.'
Mungo remembers the mix of anxiety and excitement in her brown eyes, the odd clutch of fear in his gut; a brief, sharp foreshadowing of disaster.
'So what, sweetie?' he said lightly. 'So am I. Everyone is in love with Ralph.'
'Are you jealous?' she asked him much later, when she and Ralph became lovers. 'Don't be, Mungo. I need to know you're on my side.'
'I'm always on your side,' he answered. And it was true.
As he leans on the stable door it seems that he can hear her voice, singing somewhere from the lane below him near the old Herm: 'A foolish thing was but a toy, For the rain it raineth every day.'
When he finished singing that, on the first night, alone on the stage at the end of the play, there was a moment's hush in the theatre before the audience exploded into ecstatic applause. Even now his eyes fill with tears as he remembers it; remembers the warm congratulations of the young cast, Ralph's slap on the back, and Izzy's hug, her voice breathing in his ear: 'Oh, well done, well done, darling. That was just perfect.'
Just perfect until terrible old love spoiled it all so disastrously.
'Damn and blast!' says Mungo violently, surprising himself. After all, why should the past disturb him so much today? Because it's Izzy's birthday?
The dogs stir. Silent and alert, they stare towards the gate and then jump up, tails wagging. The gate opens and Camilla comes into the courtyard. She's wearing an old denim skirt with a faded cotton shirt and flip-flops; her fair hair is tucked behind her ears and she looks youthful: the Camilla of those old, happy days. For a moment the past is vivid with him again, then she moves out of the shadows and he sees her clearly.
'Hi,' she says. 'I've come to collect the dogs. Have they been good?'
Mungo is glad that she is here. It is difficult to imagine a ghost in Camilla's calm, sensible presence.
'Good boys, then. Good fellows.' Praising the dogs, who leap about her, she bends to receive their welcome, stoops to stroke Mopsa, who beats her tail briefly on the cobbles, rolls an eye, but doesn't stir. 'Come on then. Time to go home.' She looks at Mungo hopefully. 'Coming up for a cup of tea? Archie's not back yet. Come and keep me company.'
He hesitates, but he doesn't want to be alone; not just at the moment, with Izzy's shade hovering in the lane by the old Herm.
'Yes,' he says. 'Only I've just had a phone call from Kit asking if she can come down tonight so I mustn't be too long.'
'Oh, that's great!' Her face is bright with the expectation of seeing Kit. 'What time? Do you want to bring her up to supper?'
'Not this evening.' He doesn't want to share Kit on her first night. 'She's not arriving till about nine. Tomorrow, perhaps? She's staying for a few days.'
Camilla nods. 'Fine. Archie'll be thrilled. Any special reason for the visit? Seems a bit sudden.'
'She says London's sweltering,' he answers evasively as they marshal the dogs. He can't imagine what Kit's problem might be but he has no intention of mentioning that she has one until he's found out a bit more. 'She said that she won't be leaving until it's cooler but I want to be quite ready for her.'
'I hope it's not another drama,' Camilla says as they walk together up the lane. 'I shall never forget the trouble with that man she met on the internet dating site last year. All the excitement, and then finding out he was married.'
'He was such good company, though. From that point of view he was a huge improvement on the Awful Michael.'
'Oh my God! The Awful Michael.' Camilla bursts out laughing, clutching Mungo's arm. 'He could bore for England, that man. Whatever did she see in him?'
'Well, to begin with, I think she saw him as a rather dear old dog. You know, a noble golden retriever or a kindly Labrador. Wonderful to look at but no brain. I could see the attraction. You wanted to stroke his head and give him a cuddle. Take him for a walk. The trouble was, she mistook his utter lack of character and imagination for stability. And, of course, the naval connection encouraged her to think that her family would approve. The Establishment and so on.'
'You were rather brutal, though, in the end.'
'What else could I do, Millie? He was ruining her. Wearing her down. She was becoming as boring as he was. Well, you saw that for yourself. An elderly widower with however many children and grandchildren. He wanted her to become staid and sensible and wear terrible shoes. I was kind to begin with, admit.'
Camilla can't stop laughing. 'I think we all hoped that if he came to stay often enough she'd see him in his true light, but my heart used to sink every time you phoned to say, "The Awful Michael's coming down with us this weekend." Archie would groan and complain that Kit was being turned into a stranger and that he'd have to invite Michael out sailing. And then he'd take him on the river and Michael would tell him how to sail the boat. Archie would be fuming by the time he got back home. Even Izzy couldn't work her magic on the Awful Michael.'
'We were all terribly patient, Millie, but I had to act once there was talk of selling up her flat and moving to his house in the country. He didn't want her to work, of course, and he disapproved of me and Izzy. Kit would have simply died of boredom. Anyway, we needed her.'
'But how did you actually do it, in the end? She told me you said brutal things to her.'
Mungo snorts contemptuously. 'Rubbish. It's simply that the truth hurts. I told her quite firmly that once they were living together she would see that the Awful Michael was not a handsome, darling old dog but a narrow-minded, intransigent old bore. I explained that her friends were already growing tired of the stories of his mind-numbing experiences in the Falklands War droning out over their dinner tables and that if she moved to Kent or Surrey, or wherever, that would be the end. She would wither and grow old trying to learn bridge and listening to The Archers with only the Awful Michael for company.'
'There's nothing wrong with The Archers,' says Camilla indignantly. 'I love The Archers.'
'But there is if it's your sole form of entertainment, Millie. There is more to life than The Archers. Kit loves the theatre, she loves going to exhibitions. Did you know that she's got the most delightful collection of small original paintings by practically unknown modern artists? She adores little jolly supper parties where everyone gossips too much, drinks too much, and we diss our friends. The Awful Michael was slowly annihilating her. It was like watching a candle being put out very, very slowly. Agony. She knew it really, of course, and she was in two minds anyway, so I just told her very firmly what was best for her.'
'Dear old Kit. She's so trusting. There's a naïvety as if she's never quite grown up. That's why she's so much fun. But the internet man was a bit of a downer for her and then her mother dying last year really knocked her sideways, though it was hardly unexpected. She was over ninety, after all.'
Mungo remembers Kit telephoning: 'Guess what? My old ma died this morning. I'm an orphan, Mungo. The funeral's on Friday. May I come on to you afterwards on Saturday?'
She mourned, drank too much, had Mopsa on her bed at night. They sat together on his sofa, heaped about with dogs borrowed for the occasion – 'I need the dogs,' Kit explained to Camilla, who totally understood and brought Bozzy and Sam straight down to the smithy – and she talked and wept in turn.
'There's something timeless about her,' Camilla is saying. 'You never think about Kit in terms of age. You're the same, Mungo. Perhaps it's because neither of you has had the wear and tear of marriage and children.'
'You just try working with actors, sweetie,' he says. 'Plenty of wear and tear, I promise you.'
She laughs. 'But at the end of the day you say good-night and walk out,' she says. 'Anyway, I'm glad. It means I have you to myself.' She links her arm in his as they turn in through the gateway from the lane. 'Do you ever regret anyone, Mungo?'
'I regret Ralph,' he says without thinking – and she looks up at him, surprised.
'Ralph? Gosh, that was a long time ago. Was he ...? Did you ...? I thought he was mad about Izzy. She was certainly crazy about him.'
'Ralph was ... versatile,' he answers. 'Anyway, much too long ago to be regretting at this late date.'
'He went to the States, didn't he? I remember Izzy was devastated.'
Excerpted from Indian Summer by Marcia Willett. Copyright © 2014 Marcia Willett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The setting, a rural hamlet in Devon, is perfect for a small cast of characters sensitively drawn as they struggle with friendship, family, commitment, and secrets old and new. This engaging page turner will revive your faith in the goodness of the human spirit and the healing power of love.